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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources

 

Living in Light of Two Ages

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Friday
Jul132018

Luther on Galatians -- A New Translation

Our Lutheran friends over at 1517 have just released Haraldo Camacho's new translation of Martin Luther's 1535 Commentary on Galatians.  This is a fantastic read and truly captures Luther's passion for the gospel. 

In the forward, Michael Horton exhorts the reader, "please read this new translation.  Tell a friend.  Pass it along, dog-ears and underlined sentences and all, to anyone who is doubting whether Christ is enough."  Amen!

You can find it here:  Camacho's Translation of Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians

Monday
Jul092018

“For the Sake of the Gospel”—The Apologetic Speeches of the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts (Part One)

 

I am willing to acknowledge that the contemporary debate over apologetic methodology between “evidentialists” and “presuppositionalists,” however unpleasant, can be a vital and healthy exercise.  I think it important to have a biblically based and carefully honed apologetic methodology in place before confronting both the learned and not so learned paganism of our age.  In those instances when this is the goal of the evidentialist-presuppositionalist debate, it ought to be greatly encouraged. 

I am perplexed that the parties to this in-house debate spend very little time analyzing the Apostle Paul’s apologetic speeches in the Book of Acts (1).  It is from Luke’s record of the ever-extending reign of the risen and exalted Christ, that we are given a clear picture of how the Apostle Paul sought both to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and defend the Christian truth claim (2).  Paul does so not only in the synagogues of the major cities of Greece and Asia Minor–before Jews and “God-fearing” Gentile proselytes–but also before civil magistrates as well as in the marketplaces of those Roman and Greek cities where little or nothing was known of the God of Israel and the inspired texts of the Old Testament.  In Paul’s various encounters with Jews and God-fearing Gentiles in cities such as Psidion Antioch (Acts 13:13-52), Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-15), with superstitious pagans in Lystra (Acts 14:8-19) and sophisticated Epicurean and Stoic philosophers of the Athenian Areopagus (Acts 16:-34), or Gentile rulers such as Felix (Acts 24:10-27); and even a member of Israel’s ruling family, Herod Agrippa (Acts 26:1-32), we get a sense of the Apostle’s approach to confronting divergent forms of unbelief in specific historical contexts.

All Things to All Men For the Sake of the Gospel

As Luke recounts elements of
the apologetic speeches of Paul for us in Acts, it is apparent that Paul is putting into practice his own stated philosophy of ministry, expressed in some detail in his first Letter to the Corinthian Christians:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19–23).

It is clear from these comments that Paul had thought very carefully about his unique calling as the Apostle to the Gentiles and his role as a loyal son of Israel, who’s heartfelt prayer for his people was “that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” Romans 9:2-3).  To win his own Jewish brothers and sisters to Christ, Paul became as “one under the law” (1 Corinthians 9:20), though he was free in Christ.  To the Gentiles who knew not Moses, the law, or Israel’s God, Paul instead become a man subject only to the law of Christ, so that those who were at one time “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world,” might be won to Israel’s Messiah (Ephesians 2:12).

Let us be careful to note that Paul was no mere pragmatist, adopting in chameleon-like fashion, the ideology of whatever group he happened to be facing at any given moment.  Paul was not concerned with demographics or success in the modern American sense of church planting.  He was concerned with being faithful to the commission given him by Jesus Christ.  As Pauline scholarship has pointed out, perhaps it is best that we think of Paul neither exclusively as systematic theologian, nor, on the contrary, as a theological  innovator.   Instead we should view Paul as a man called to be an apostle by Jesus Christ, who in turn applied his core beliefs of an unchanging gospel of free grace to very specific, yet very dynamic situations, which, in turn, became the occasion for a number of the Epistles of Paul which appear in our New Testament canon (3).  Throughout the various apologetic speeches in Acts, we see Paul proclaim one gospel to diverse audiences who stand poles apart from one another in terms of both their respective intellectual and cultural backgrounds and their interpretive “world and life” view.  How does the Apostle bridge this wide intellectual gap?

Christ and Him Crucified

There are several things that must be pointed out about Paul’s basic theological core convictions, so clearly and energetically expressed in his letters to the churches, and that also repeatedly surface in the varied apologetic speeches described in Acts.  The first thing that we need to consider is that Paul clearly thought in eschatological terms, seeing the course of human history as the unfolding of two successive ages–a present “evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and an “age to come” in which Jesus Christ himself rules (Ephesians 1:21).  This is the lens through which Paul sees much of the wickedness and unbelief of his own age (4).  For Paul, this present age is characterized as the dominion of death which has befallen us under the headship of Adam (Romans 5:12-19).  It is an age of a “worldly wisdom” that does not understand the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-8).  “This age” is characterized by speculative philosophy (1 Corinthians 1:20), and is an age in which the arch-enemy of God, Satan, rules by default, having blinded the minds of men to the truth of the things of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).  To be identified with “this age” is to be tragically bound to death and the things of this world, things destined to perish.
 
The “age to come,” on the other hand, is an age of eternal life in Christ, the second Adam (Romans 5:12-19; 1 Corinthians 15:50 ff.), in which mere flesh and blood are transformed by resurrection life.  The age to come is an age in which the eternal has swallowed up the temporal in the eschatological victory of Jesus Christ and the consummation of all things (1 Timothy 6:19; 2 Timothy 4:18).  It is an age characterized by the wisdom of God, revealed in the person and work of his son.
 
Opposition to Paul’s preaching arises directly from the “wisdom” of the citizens of this age, and such opposition cannot rise any higher than the innate idolatry of the human heart.  What men and women learn of God through general revelation can only condemn them, leaving all without excuse before God’s righteous tribunal, since what they do know of God is sinfully suppressed in unrighteousness, having exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Romans 1:19-25).  Apart from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the citizens of “this age” suffer from ignorance of God, the futility of being unable to think God’s thoughts after him, a darkened understanding of revealed things, a profound hardness of heart, and are,  according to Paul, “alienated from God” (Ephesians 4:17-18).  Paul would grant little quarter, I think, to those sentimental American Evangelicals who see the consequences of sin in purely moral categories.  Sin not only makes us “bad,” it renders us incapable of coming to faith apart from prior grace and spiritual illumination.  Human sinfulness renders us unwilling to believe what we know to be true about God and to trust in the saving actions of his son as our only hope of heaven.  Above all else, our sin places us under God’s just condemnation.  We are blind, because fallen in Adam, we would rather gouge out our own spiritual eyes, than bow our knees and confess “Jesus Christ is Lord.”  For Paul, sin has grave intellectual ramifications, which are fundamentally and essentially related to our moral depravity.

With this in mind, we now can make sense of a second major category in Paul’s theological core, “the theology of the cross.”  We see this in Paul’s repeated comments about the gospel being “the power of God” unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:18).  As the wisdom, not of men, but of God (1 Corinthians 1:21), what appeared to be foolishness to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews–both citizens of “this age”–the cross displays the very epitome of the wisdom of the “age to come.”  Says Paul, “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentile.”  For “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  Indeed, “ Christ Jesus . . . became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-30).  This is why Paul can say to the erring Galatians–many of whom had returned to the works-righteousness principle of this “present evil age” (Galatians 2:16)–that it was the apostle’s desire to never boast, “except in the cross of Christ” (Galatians 6:14).  The way to combat the unbelief of the “present evil age” is to confront it head-on, with the truth of the gospel in which the power of God and the wisdom of God are evident in the saving work of Jesus Christ in his death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)—Paul’s theology of the cross.

 This has profound significance for any defense of the Christian faith.  Paul’s theology of the cross is central to all his thinking.  The cross is the basis for his proclamation of Christ crucified to Jew and Gentile.  It also colors all of the historic encounters we find between Paul and unbelievers in the Book of Acts.  While desiring to be “all things to all men,” Paul has one gospel to proclaim, whether it be to “Jews and God-fearers” of the synagogues, the superstitious pagans of Lystra, or the learned pagans of Athens.  It is Paul’s theology of the cross which turns these encounters with unbelief into what may be called a pattern of “proclamation—defense.”  There is a profound sense in which we cannot understand any of these Lukan reports apart from the content of Paul’s preaching, which, in Luke’s account, is always prior to the defense.  This means that Paul’s apologetic will not be grounded in natural theology or the so-called “classical proofs” for God’s existence.  Paul’s apologetic will be firmly grounded both in general revelation through that which God has created, and in the redemptive acts of God in Christ which are, therefore, necessarily grounded in ordinary history.  Since redemptive-history involves the saving acts of God in time and space, redemptive-history is necessarily grounded in events which did or did not occur, a point made clear by Geerhardus Vos (5).

End of Part One

(1).  Cornelius Van Til’s little booklet Paul at Athens, (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978) is a notable exception.  K. Scott Olpihant’s The Battle Belongs to the Lord (Phillipsburg: P & R, 2003), 143 ff), also addresses Acts 17, but in a rather superficial way.  Two of the books by the major parties to this debate make little, if any, mention of these speeches:  R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984); and John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994).  It would seem to me that the apostolic pattern of proclamation-apologia would be a major issue of contention.  Instead the apologetic speeches are barely given mention.

(2).  According to John Calvin, the theme of Acts is “the beginning of the reign of Christ, and, as it were, the renewal of the world is being depicted here.”  See John Calvin, The Acts of the Apostles, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1979), 17.

(3).   I am thinking of the “contingency-coherence” model set out by J. Christiaan Beker, in Paul the Apostle (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1980), especially pages 23-36. 

(4).   Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1949), 20 ff.

(5).  Geerhardus Vos, “The Idea of Biblical Theology,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed., Richard Gaffin (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 18-19.

Monday
Jun182018

Synod Wheaton 2018 -- A Couple of Thoughts (Updated)

 

There were many important items addressed at the 2018 URCNA Synod in Wheaton, Ill.  It was a tremendous blessing and most profitable to attend a concurrent URCNA Synod/OPC General Assembly.  Our two churches have much in common and no doubt this will encourage more joint efforts between us in the future. 

But two things stand out as the most important take-aways in my mind.  One is the production of a joint URC/OPC Hymnal, the Trinity Psalter Hymnal.  This is a huge development in many ways.  First, we have an outstanding Psalter with appropriate numbering--Psalm 1 is on page one.  Imagine that?  Second, the Psalms are versified so you can tell what verse from the Psalm you are singing. Third, the revivalist tunes ("couples only on stanza three") are gone.  What a joy to have a first-rate Psalter which is faithful to the biblical text.

Another take-away from Synod/General Assembly is the stress on both domestic and foreign missions.  The amount of mission work and church planting in which these two small confessional bodies are engaged is simply astonishing and a testimony to God's gracious purposes.  There is much for the URCNA to learn from our OPC brothers and sisters about how to do mission work and plant churches.  That learning process was given a giant boost at Synod. 

I wish that every joker who claims Reformed Christians "are not interested in evangelism" be made to sit through a video recording of Wednesday and Thursday night's missions presentations.  Our two churches are driven by our love for the lost--even if we in the URCNA need to improve the ways we put this love for the lost into practice.

If you were to ask me, "what was the main theme of Synod?"  I would answer "missions."


 

I was privileged to work on the committee tasked with addressing the four overtures sent on to our synod requesting a statement regarding marriage, which would not only reflect our historic position on marriage so as to provide protection from litigation, but also serve as a teaching tool to our millennials who do not see gay marriage in the same way most of us over 40 do. 

I'm the bald guy in praying posture.  Dr. Brian Lee of the "other" Christ Reformed Church in DC was the chair.  Our reporter--who does the work of keeping track of the discussions (Rev. Talman Wagenmaker)--is the best at this in the URCNA.  I think we produced a very solid document.  Synod did too.  It passed without dissent.  It will be available soon on the URCNA website.


 

"Daddy, what did you do at Synod?"  Most of you who know me, know I'm not a "synod kind of guy."  I certainly do realize the importance of Synod but I don't speak to matters on the floor unless necessary--as when I chaired the liturgical forms committee a few years ago.  I think the networking which takes place over coffee (at lunch and at breaks), or the beer and cigar afterglow is where much fruitful conversation takes place about matters regarding both Synod and our future as a federation. 

I'm chatting with Rev. Mike Brown and Dr. Ryan Glomsrud of WSC--one of many such informal sessions,

I always dread going to Synod, but then am glad I went.

Sunday
Jun102018

Off To Synod

I'll be at Wheaton College for the URCNA 2018 Synod this coming week, and upon return home, Lord willing, I'll begin my annual summer sabbatical/vacation. 

Our Synod will be held concurrently with the OPC, which is holding its 85th General Assembly.  This will be a historic occasion for both.

I do plan on blogging throughout the Summer, so I won't be entirely absent.

Sunday
Jun102018

"Against Jerusalem" -- 2 Kings 25:1-22

Here's the audio from this morning's sermon on the Minor Prophets--the Fate of Judah and Jerusalem

 

Sunday
Jun102018

This Week's White Horse Inn

Christianity in North and South Korea

What is it like to be a Christian in North Korea where believers are persecuted for their faith? How does their experience differ from those living in prosperous South Korea? How do the cultural forces of totalitarianism on the one hand and consumerism and secularism on the other shape the way we live out our faith as Christians? On this special edition of White Horse Inn recorded in Seoul, Korea, Michael Horton discusses these issues and more with Steven Chang, Samuel Kim, and Julius Kim.

Click Here

Thursday
Jun072018

Apologetics in a Post Christian Age (Audio) -- Common Ground and Presuppositions (Part One)

Here's the audio from our Wednesday night Bible Study:  Common Ground and the Role of Presuppositions

Previous lectures in this series can be found here (scroll down): Apologetics in a Post Christian Age

Wednesday
Jun062018

Take a Moment to Listen . . . Especially if You Are Under Forty

On June 6, 1944--seventy four years ago today--the allies sucessfully landed on five beaches in Normandy.  Many celebrations of this world-changing event (known simply as D-Day) have come and gone.  Few are left alive who fought this day to breach Hitler's supposedly impenetrable Atlantic Wall and open that "second front" which would bring Nazi Germany to its final defeat nearly a year later.

On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of D-Day, Ronald Reagan gave his famous speech, "The Boys of Ponte du Hoc."  I post this because it is the most fitting tribute I know to the soldiers who fought there.  But as I too am getting older, I find fewer and fewer people who know the significance of what happened at Ponte du Hoc on June 6, 1944, or who have heard Ronald Reagan give a speech.

In our age of political lunacy, banality, corruption, and incompetence, Reagan's words harken me back to the courage of my father's generation.  They also remind me how much I miss Ronald Reagan in this age of Trump.

Please take a moment to listen.  It is well worth your time.

Tuesday
Jun052018

"In Him" -- Colossians 2:6-15

The Fifth in a Series of Sermons on Colossians

One of the unique emphases of Reformed theology is the doctrine of “union with Christ,” which arises from reflection upon the letters of Paul.  Union with Christ is the answer to one of the theological problems created by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.  The problem is this–since Jesus has ascended into heaven where he presently rules over all things, how then do we participate in all his saving benefits since he is no longer physically present with us on the earth?  The answer given throughout the New Testament, and especially in the letters of Paul, is through our union with Christ–a union established between each believer and Jesus by the indwelling Holy Spirit, a union which commences immediately the moment we believe in Jesus and are justified (being declared righteous).  This union endures until we die and enter the Lord’s presence.  To believe in Jesus is to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit in which Jesus has baptized us.  To believe in Jesus is to be united to him in his three-fold on-going office of prophet, priest, and king.  To be baptized into Jesus is to be baptized into his death and resurrection, the visible sign and seal of Jesus’ saving work and of our union with him.  To believe in Jesus is to be “in Christ.”

The believer’s union with Christ is just one of the points Paul makes in his response to the so-called Colossian heresy, which the Epistle of Colossians is written to refute.  In refuting this heresy, Paul has argued for the supremacy of Jesus by speaking of Jesus as creator of all things and firstborn from the dead (in his resurrection), thereby commencing his work of new creation in which Jesus reconciles sinners to God and is head of his church.  Through our union with Jesus, we are members of his church which is his body (manifest through membership in a local congregation).  Because we are said to be “in Christ,” we are in union with Jesus in his death and resurrection, and as Paul points out in verse 24 of chapter 1, we are also united to Jesus in the fellowship of his sufferings.    

Throughout the opening chapter of Colossians, Paul has made his case for the supremacy of Jesus as Lord of all things, based upon that which was revealed to Paul by Jesus himself, what Paul describes as the mystery hidden for long ages past in the Old Testament, to which Paul repeatedly alludes as he makes his case.  In fact, there are many overlooked but loud echoes from the Old Testament in Colossians 1.  The mystery now revealed through the preaching of the gospel, is the person and work of Jesus, which Paul says was being proclaimed throughout much of the first century Mediterranean world in churches such as those in Colossae (to which Paul writes) and Laodicea (which he mentions).  When Jesus entered human history to accomplish the work of our redemption, the mystery was “revealed.”  This is worth considering as one of the main points in Paul’s refutation of the Colossian heresy.  Nothing secret about Christianity.  Jesus’ saving work was very public and unfolds in ordinary human history–not within the human heart, nor tied to secret powers and forces supposedly at work in the universe.

There is much packed into our text (vv. 6-15) of Colossians 2, so we will proceed as follows.  First, we will take up Paul’s discussion in verses 6-7 of the importance of holding fast to the things which the Colossians have been taught by Epaphras, their pastor.  Then, second, we will consider what Paul means when he speaks of  “plausible arguments” (v. 4), the kinds of arguments the Christians in Colossae were facing from the false teachers–that which Paul will describe as “philosophy, deceit, and tradition” grounded in elemental things, not in Christ (v. 8).  Third, in verses 9-10, Paul explains that all true spiritual fulness is found only in Jesus–God incarnate.  Paul goes on to explain in verse 11-15 how Christians are united to Christ so as to experience this spiritual fulness.  Then we will wrap up by making several points of application.

To read the rest of this sermon: Click Here

Monday
Jun042018

This Week at Christ Reformed Church (June 4-10)

Sunday Morning, June 10:  This week we will be taking a look at the tragic fall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (2 Kings 25), as part of our series on the Minor Prophets.  What role does this tragic event play in redemptive history?  Our worship service begins at 10:30 a.m.

Sunday Afternoon:  We have come to Article 17 of the Belgic Confession and a discussion of Christ's role as redeemer.  Our catechism service begins @ 1:15 p.m.

Wednesday Night Bible Study (June 6 @ 7:30 p.m.):  We continue with our series, "Apologetics in a Post-Christian Age."  Our topic, "Common Ground and Presuppositions."  

The Academy:  On Hiatus until the Fall 

For more information on Christ Reformed Church you can always find us here (Christ Reformed Church), or on Facebook (Christ Reformed on Facebook).